Plantation field with slaves Plantation field with slaves
The Thirteenth Amendment: An End to American Slavery

The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. In the aftermath of the Civil War, this amendment banned slavery in the United States, ending a barbaric system that had been legal in America for well over a hundred years. Four million people, an entire eighth of the U.S. population, were freed as a result.

The Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves in many states nearly three years prior, but the Proclamation was officially a wartime measure, not a formal law. Unlike the Thirteenth Amendment, it did not guarantee the total abolition of slavery.

Finally free, former slaves struggled to adjust to living in freedom with their former owners as neighbors. Many freedmen required education previously denied to them, including basic skills such as reading and writing. African-Americans also began migrating to other parts of the country, including the North and the western frontier, in pursuit of greater opportunity.

Though the Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery in the United States, it did not give citizenship to African-Americans, nor did it give African-American men the right to vote. These gains were not accomplished until the passage of the other Reconstruction amendments, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, in 1868 and 1870, respectively.

Below is a collection of resources recognizing this crucial piece of American law. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Explore the 13th Amendment at NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>

Selected online resources on the Thirteenth Amendment:

American ConstitutionNational Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution

The National Constitution Center offers a collection of introductory essays by top liberal and conservative legal scholars that give overviews of Thirteenth Amendment as agreed upon by both authors, as well as separate brief statements of these scholars’ disagreements about the law’s interpretation.

Visit NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>



Civil War political cartoonThe Library of Congress Web Guide to the Thirteenth Amendment

The Library of Congress has amassed a variety of resources on the Thirteenth Amendment, including primary documents from the time of ratification and related exhibitions and websites.

Explore the Library of Congress web guide >>



Unidentified African-American soldier with his familyDocuments from Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867

The University of Maryland has shared selected documents from the volumes of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation online. The transcriptions (or, in a few cases, images) of originals are housed in the National Archives of the United States and have been transcribed exactly as written, with no correction of spelling, punctuation, or syntax and no editorial supply of absent punctuation. The documents include letters between a couple separated by war, military orders, and resolutions of Congress, among others.

Read original documents from the emancipation era here >>



Harper's Weekly, November 1860Harper’s Weekly Resources on the Thirteenth Amendment

Harper’s Weekly was one of the most widely read journals during the Civil War era. HarpWeek, an organization that has indexed all of Harper’s Weekly, has a webpage devoted to the journal’s coverage of the Thirteenth Amendment. The primary source materials on the site include editorials, stories, illustrations, cartoons, as well as documents from key political and military figures of the time. Additionally, HarpWeek has added an annotated timeline, biographical sketches, and a glossary of terms.

Visit the HarpWeek Thirteenth Amendment page >>



*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment or its history and interpretations, and would like your work included here, send it to us at

Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:

Slavery, Political Philosophy, and Constitutional Law


William Allen, Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H. B. Stowe. (Lexington Books, 2008)

State and Citizen, British America and the Early States, Peter OnufMark Boonshoft, Doughfaces at the Founding: Federalists, Anti-Federalists, Slavery, and the Ratification of the Constitution in New York.” (New York History 93.3, Summer 2012)

Justin Dyer, Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition. (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Justin Dyer, Revisiting Dred Scott: Prudence, Providence, and the Limits of Constitutional Statesmanship.” (Perspectives on Political Science 39.3, 2010)

Justin Dyer, Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning. (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Justin Dyer, Slavery and the Magna Carta in the Development of Anglo-American Constitutionalism.” (PS: Political Science and Politics 43.3, July 2010)

Eliga Gould, The Laws of War and Peace: Legitimating Slavery in the Age of the American Revolution.” (State and Citizen: British America and the Early United States, University of Virginia Press, 2013)

Peter Onuf, Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance. (Indiana University Press, 1987)

Justin Lawrence Simard, Slavery’s Legalism: Lawyers and the Commercial Routine of Slavery.” (Law and History Review 37.2, May 2019)

Keith Whittington, The Road Not Taken: Dred Scott, Constitutional Law, and Political Questions.” (Journal of Politics 63.2, May 2001)

Keith Whittington, Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court.” (The Political Thought of the Civil War, University Press of Kansas, 2018)

Jean Yarbrough, Race and the Moral Foundation of the American Republic: Another Look at the Declaration and the Notes on Virginia.” (The Journal of Politics 53.1, February 1991)

Michael Zuckert, Transcript of the 2013 Walter Berns Constitution Day Lecture: Slavery and the Constitutional Convention. (American Enterprise Institute, September 17, 2013)


The Impact of the Thirteenth Amendment


American ConstitutionalismJustin Dyer, “Constitutional Confusion: Slavery, Abortion, and Substantive Constitutional Analysis.” (American Journal of Economics and Sociology 76.1, 2017)

Keith E. Whittington (co-author), American Constitutionalism: Powers, Rights, and Liberties. (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Michael Zuckert, “Completing the Constitution I: The Thirteenth Amendment.” (Constitutional Commentary 718, 1987)

Michael Zuckert, “Natural Rights and the Post-Civil War Amendments.” (Natural Law, Natural Rights and American Constitutionalism, Witherspoon Institute/National Endowment for the Humanities, 2011)


The Civil War and Emancipation


Andrew F. Lang, A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era. (University of North Carolina Press, 2021)

Andrew F. Lang, Republicanism, Race, and Reconstruction: The Ethos of Military Occupation in Civil War America.” (Journal of the Civil War Era 4.4, December 2014)

Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan WhiteJonathan White, 155 Years Ago: Lincoln and the Black Delegation.” (The Lincoln Forum Bulletin 42, Fall 2017)

Jonathan White (editor), The Civil War Letters of Tillman Valentine, Third U.S. Colored Troops.” (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 139.2, April 2015)

Jonathan White, Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln.(Louisiana State University Press, 2014)

Jonathan White, Race, Slavery, and Freedom in the Ohio River Valley during the Civil War.” (Ohio Valley History 16.3, Fall 2016)

Jonathan White, When Emancipation Finally Came, Slave Markets Took on a Redemptive Purpose.” (, February 26, 2018)




Lincoln and Johnson political cartoonMichael Douma (co-author), The Danish St. Croix Project: Revisiting the Lincoln Colonization Program with Foreign-Language Sources.” (American Nineteenth Century History 15.3, 2014)

Michael Douma, Holland’s Plan for America’s Slaves.” (New York Times, July 11, 2013)

Michael Douma, The Lincoln Administration’s Negotiations to Colonize African Americans in Dutch Suriname.” (Civil War History 61.2, June 2015)

Allen Guelzo, “The History of Reconstruction’s Third Phase.” (History News Network, February 4, 2018)

The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism, 1997James Patterson, Free Markets, Racial Equality, and Southern Prosperity: The Rise and Fall of Lewis Harvie Blair.” (Library of Law and Liberty, November 21, 2014)

Diana Schaub, “Lincoln and the Other Washington.” (Law & Liberty, February 15, 2016)

Rogers Smith, “Legitimating Reconstruction: The Limits of Legalism.” (Yale Law Journal 108, 1999)

Kyle Volk, Desegregating New York City: The Amazing pre-Civil War History of the Public Transit Integration in the North.” (, August 10, 2014)

Michael Zuckert, Fundamental Rights, the Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism: The Lessons of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.” (The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997)

Michael Zuckert, Natural Rights and the Post Civil War Amendments.” (Witherspoon Institute’s Natural Law, Natural Rights and American Constitutionalism, Online Resource Center, 2009)


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment or its history and interpretations, and would like your work included here, send it to us at



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